Following in their parents’ footsteps

Katie and Brett Kucharski both grew up in the restaurant business, so it’s no surprise that the Port Washington couple has chosen to work together in the food service

SINCE REBRANDING from a sports bar to a family restaurant in February, Skippy’s Burger Bar in Thiensville has seen more than double the return in food sales. Above, the Kucharski family — comprised of Jan and Ken (front, right), 2-year-old James, Katie and Brett — stood behind the beer taps of the bar. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

 

Port Washington residents, Brett and Katie Kucharski, are following the footsteps of their parents as young restaurateurs.

“We were born and raised in the restaurant business,” said Katie Kucharski, whose parents Jim and Maria Kiesow owned the Pasta Shoppe in Port from 1973 to 2017.

Brett agreed, adding they had an instant connection when they first met as students at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay.

“I think that’s why we got along so well because we understood the craziness of the business with working on the weekends and the long hours,” he said.

The pair works at Skippy’s Burger Bar in Thiensville, which is owned by Brett’s parents Ken and Jan Kucharski. Brett is the restaurant manager and Katie is in charge of promotions and marketing.

In February, the eatery at 113 Green Bay Rd., Thiensville, rebranded itself from a sports bar to a family restaurant and changed its name from Skippy’s Sports Pub to Skippy’s Burger Bar.

“It was definitely a leap of faith for us,” Jan said, noting the family opened the business in 1997.

The family closed the restaurant for one week to redecorate, paint and add new tables and chairs that Dan built. They also created a new logo for the sign hanging outside the restaurant.

“We put paper on the windows so nobody could see what was going on,” Katie said. “I think some of them were worried that we were closing.”

A discussion on changing the eatery’s image began several months before because the family wanted to focus more on food sales than drinks.

“When we were named a sports bar, a lot of people would come here to eat as an afterthought. But now we have a lot more people coming here as a destination just to eat,” Brett said.

His father agreed.

“We were always known for our burgers, and that became our focus,” he said. “Since the change, our food sales have more than doubled.”

In addition to burgers, the family also added items such as pulled-pork macaroni and cheese.

While the restaurant kept its clientele from Thiensville and Mequon, it has also seen traffic from families all over Ozaukee County.

“Families recognize that this is a place they can go for dinner as opposed to just drinking, which was a big part of what we were hoping for,” Katie said. “We’ve seen so many new faces in the last six months, and some of them are becoming regulars.”

The restaurant has hired several more employees to keep up with the demand and anticipates it will add more, Ken said.

Looking back on the change Ken said it was nothing like reality TV shows.

“I call it the reality of a relaunch. You see these hour-long TV shows, and how they tear everything out in three-days time, but that isn’t reality,” he said. “Reality is — if you want to do it right — planning, implementing and a lot of late-night hours.”

The family said working together has its pros and cons, but they found it to be a labor of love.

“We butt heads once in awhile, but it’s always for the right reasons because our goal is the same,” Brett said. “A lot of times if we have a difference of opinion, we’ll come up with something that incorporates our ideas together.”

One example of those differences occurred when they were attempting to hang up the new sign outside in the middle of winter.

“We realized you never see a new sign go up anywhere when there’s snow on the ground,” Jan said, laughing.

The Kucharskis said their main goal is to build a family among their patrons and to support the community by hosting fundraising events.

Every August, they host Skippy Fest, which in the past has supported the Humane Society, autism awareness and the Thiensville Village Park.

For the first time this month, the restaurant is donating a portion of its proceeds to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

One of the reasons the family is supporting the organization is because Jan’s mother died of cancer in 2003, when Katie and Brett were seniors in high school.

Five dollars will be donated from each sale of the burger-of-the-month, “Old 57,” and on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 20% of all food and beverages sales will go to the foundation.

“Now that our establishment is more family-oriented, we want to have more family and community activities here outside of Skippy Fest,” Katie said, adding she’s planning on organizing a painting party in November.

The family said while they are satisfied with the interior facelift to the restaurant, they understand the building that was built in 1855 will need more improvements in the future.

“The building is over 160 years old. It always needs some updating and TLC,” Brett said. “We’re definitely the oldest bar in Ozaukee.”

Brett and Katie see the future of the restaurant resting on the shoulders of their two-year old son James, who will start 3-K in a couple of months at St. John XXIII Catholic School in Port.

“We’ll start having James waiting tables when he turns five,” Katie joked.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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